Time again for the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge! What will you be reading?

Dust off your books and library cards–it’s time again for the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge sponsored by In the Bookcase.

512 an old-fashioned girl louisa may alcott 01 covermarch-geraldine-brooksAlready there are some terrific books lined up by readers including An Old-Fashioned Girl, Proverb StoriesMarch by Geraldine Brooks and even my own Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message.

I am already about a third of the way through Pedlar’s Progress by Odell Shepherd on the life of Bronson Alcott. Concurrently I am reading Bronson’s journals edited by Shepherd, and How Like an Angel Came I Down: Conversations with Children on the Gospels.

pedlar's progress-horiz

You can follow the discussions on In the Bookcase and also through Goodreads.

Looking forward to seeing what everyone is reading!

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“A thousand kisses–I love you with my whole soul”: Relations between women in the 19th century, as reflected in Little Women

This comment from Diana regarding a previous post prompted a discussion on whether or not Louisa May Alcott was gay:

“What is your opinion of the evidence that she may have had some suppressed passion, such as crushes, on girls? Remember she said in an interview that she had been in love with so many girls in her life. This may have been an almost unconscious part of her complicated character; but it would need to be considered in examining her sexual energy. At any rate, if that energy was channeled into her writing, this aspect of it may have been an added component to the human richness of her genius, giving her an extra sensitive intuition into both sexes.”

It is tricky addressing this subject because the mentality of the nineteenth century was so different from our present day. Continue reading

Announcing my first book, “River of Grace,” to be published this Fall!

River of Grace is available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

I am pleased to announce that my very first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times will be released this Fall, published by Ave Maria Press!

You can pre-order it now on Amazon.com.

A memoir with life application

River of Grace is a faith-based memoir (written from my Roman Catholic tradition) with life application exercises, offering true and hopeful stories of growth and transformation after hard losses.

amy belding brownAmy Belding Brown, author of Mr. Emerson’s Wife (see review) and Flight of the Sparrow (see review) writes:

“Susan Bailey’s powerful and beautifully-written book is much more than an insightful spiritual memoir. River of Grace is also a brilliant reflection on the connections between creativity and grace. Deeply grounded in a profound Christian faith, the author chronicles her personal experiences of loss and shows how they were transformed as she learned to accept and respond to new challenges. This wonderful book also includes a valuable assortment of exercises that will enrich your spiritual life and gently guide you to confront your own difficulties and deepen your relationship with God. Anyone who seeks to discern God’s purposes in life’s most challenging situations will find this book one to cherish.”

Seasons of loss

louisa loses lizzieJust about all of us can cite a time in our lives whether now or in the past, where we have lost something precious to us.

  • Perhaps it’s been the death of a parent or a child.
  • Or, you yourself are suffering through a long illness.
  • It could be a long stretch of unemployment causing financial difficulties, even the loss of your home.
  • Maybe you’ve lost a best friend due to a falling out.
  • Perhaps you’ve recently put down a beloved pet.

These are all serious losses that tear at us, causing grief or anxiety or anger. Where do we find the strength to pick up the pieces and carry on?

Could a serious loss signal a new life, even a transformed life?

This is what I write about in River of Grace, beginning with the loss of my parents and then my singing voice. Through the means of a kayak and my love for Louisa May Alcott, I believe that God led me on amazing, joy-filled and sometimes crazy adventure within his river of grace, leading up to this book and beyond.

Louisa May Alcott’s story, and my story

louisa may alcott for widgetLouisa’s life and writing played a central role in my journey from loss and grief to creative rebirth and a life transformed. In River of Grace you will find out how I came to find Louisa again, how she spoke to me through her life and works, and how I came to create the community known as Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.

Writing through the ages that offers comfort

Louisa May Alcott’s candid and heartfelt writing provided much consolation after I lost my mother to a long illness. This  beloved 19th-century author spoke to my own season of loss.

Reading through “Mommy’s” copies of Little Women, An Old-Fashioned Girl and Aunt Jo’s Scrap-bag drew me out of numbing grief and reunited me with the mother I called my best friend and confidant.

aunt jo's scrap-bag combined

Awakening the creative spirit

By immersing myself into all things Alcott, my long dormant creative life came to life again and led me to places I never would have dreamed possible.

Understanding for the first time what true creativity is, I show in this book how such creativity is for everyone, not just for those who possess certain talents.

Stories and tools

River of Grace is not just book of stories. I provide practical tools so that you too can go on your amazing adventure. These “Flow Lessons” appear throughout the book and will also be available on this website.

In the weeks to come, I will share quotes and stories from River of Grace. Please spread the word to everyone you know who has gone through a season of loss or is just looking to jump start their spiritual and creative lives.

Available in many formats

River of Grace will be available as a print book, e-book and audio book (through Audible.com and iTunes). Just this past week I started the process of recording the book. My thanks to producer extraordinaire Ron Zabrocki for his expertise (he produced several of my music CDs).

recording montage

Here is more on River of Grace:

Writing River of Grace and having it published by such a well-respected publisher is a dream come true. I would definitely classify it as a “crazy adventure!”

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesPlease share this post on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, through email with anyone whom you think would benefit from reading my book. Feel free to share the book cover. Your recommendation is the best way to get the word out.

I will let you know just as soon as it is available when you can order River of Grace. Signing up for my email list is the best way to be the first to know.

I can’t wait to share this book with you!

 

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Remembering my mom with the words of Louisa May Alcott

Today (April 22, 2015) marks the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. But it’s not a sad day. Like Louisa, I have a firm belief in the hereafter. Like Christie Devon in Work, I too have seen “signs” that my mother is still very close to me (see previous post).

In those first weeks after my mother’s passing when I was too numb to cry I found Louisa. The one thing that broke through that wall of numbness was reading Louisa’s words in my mother’s copies of her books, personalized with her name plate.

There was Little Women with a copyright of 1911.

little women combined

There was An Old-Fashioned Girl from the 1920’s with the most exquisite color plates.

an old fashioned girl combined

There was Aunt Jo’s Scrap-bag, Volume 6 with my favorite of Louisa’s short stories, “The Dolls’ Journey from Minnesota to Maine.”

aunt jo's scrap-bag combined

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

Now, five years later with many wonderful books read and much writing done, I think of my mother with heartfelt love and and a few tears,  knowing that somehow her spirit guided me to Louisa, along with the beloved Friend that lives inside of me.

Happy anniversary, Mommy.

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Summer Conversational Series 2014 – “Navigating the Vortex: Creative Genius in the Time of the Alcotts” – Is it Talent or Genius?

Jan Turnquist, Executive Director, introducing the speaker.

Jan Turnquist, Executive Director, introducing the speaker.

I am grateful to be able to attend again the annual Summer Conversational Series at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House this year. The theme concerns talent versus genius, and the abundance of genius that existed in Concord, Massachusetts in the 19th century.

I was not able to take in all five days of the series but I will present the speakers that I was fortunate enough to see.

Was Louisa a genius?

Was Louisa May Alcott a genius or merely a crackerjack professional writer? Was she both? These questions and more were explored during Monday’s session.

Cathlin Davis, Ph.D

560 cathlin1

Cathlin Davis, Ph.D on Talent versus Genius

The first speaker was a perennial favorite, Dr. Cathlin Davis, professor of Liberal Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. Dr. Davis probably knows Louisa’s juvenile canon better than anyone with a particular emphasis on her numerous short stories.

Louisa’s breakthrough work in children’s literature

Dr. Davis is passionate about elevating children’s literature to the level of respect it deserves by highlighting its most prominent authors. Dr. Davis maintained in her presentation “Is it Talent or Genius?” that Louisa’s unique genius was the ability to get inside the mind of the child and voice that child’s thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears. Before Louisa, children’s literature presented all-too-perfect children presenting moral teaching through stilted dialog. Dr. Davis compared a sample from Nathanial Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales of a twelve year old’s conversation (stiff, formal, full of long words and complex sentences) to Louisa’s An Old-Fashioned Girl featuring childish conversation laced with slang and grammatical errors; in other words, the way children of that era really talked.

Examples from Louisa’s stories

Dr. Davis spelled out the qualities of talent and of genius, displaying them on a poster (see photo). She then took several examples from Louisa’s books and short stories to illustrate. These included Amy and Laurie from Little Women, Rose, Charlie, Phoebe and Mac from Rose in Bloom, Psyche and her little sister from the short story “Pysche’s Art,” Clara from “A Bright Idea” (from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, Volume V), and Diana and Persis. As you can see from the photo, she listed who she thought had talent and who possessed genius.

560 talent versus genius

 

Louisa herself is on that list.

Louisa’s genius was her genuine love of children, her commitment to truthfulness and accuracy, and her passion. She respected children, never writing “down” to them. These qualities were instantly recognized by her adoring public with the first publication of volume one of Little Women.

Much to find in Louisa’s stories

Dr. Davis concluded that Louisa wrote extensively on the subjects of talent and genius. She remarked that preparing for this presentation, she realized that Rose in Bloom is not just about romance but about discovering one’s talent, determining whether or not it is genius, and using it to benefit others. While Louisa did often focus on the fine art talents of music, acting, dancing and painting, she also pointed out those talents which often go unnoticed – the talents for helping others which Rose displayed so well in the story.

True confession

rose in bloomI have a confession to make which has probably been obvious to you who read this blog regularly: I enjoy writing about Louisa more than writing about her books and stories. It is an odd disconnect, one that I am seeking to correct. Having listened to Dr. Davis’s presentation (and later having the pleasure of conversing with her over dinner), I have a better sense of what to look for when I read Louisa’s juvenile works. Dr. Davis is convinced that in spite of the infamous quote (which she is loath to use) of writing “moral pap for the young,” Louisa was in fact proud of her juvenile writing and poured herself into her writing.

You all of course have always known that. I felt that way about Little Women despite Louisa’s protestations about having to write it. Perhaps the author doth protest too much?

Needless to say, I have much catching up to do and a pleasant task it will be!

More to come …

In my next post I will present more about the other presenters in Monday’s session.

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Talking about Louisa on the radio!

Last week I was invited to be interviewed by the Extreme Writers Now forum on Blogtalk radio. The interview took place on Sunday night and we had a free-for-all discussing Louisa’s works and legacy. It was great fun and I was honored to be a part of it.

You can listen to the interview here (click on the picture):

We talked about Little Women, Moods, A. M. Barnard, men, women and
An Old-Fashioned Girl, and Louisa’s poignant writings about dying in Hospital Sketches.

I love spreading the word about Louisa’s wonderful life, work and legacy! My thanks to Karen Weil who wrote the wonderful post on Louisa’s poetry; she made the connection.

Click to Tweet & Share Got to talk about LMA on the radio! Listen to interview on Blog Talk Radio (Extreme Writing Now) http://wp.me/p125Rp-1ar @Drifter0658

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My 3 days with Louisa May Alcott (part four): connections between Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller

Note: This post is longer than usual. I had considered running it in two installments but thought it would lessen the impact of its message by doing that.

So sit back with a cup of coffee, relax and read.:-)

Two ladies,
same vision

Two New England feminists, both heavily influenced by transcendentalism.

Both in the company of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott.

Both very reform-minded.

Both would forever change history for women.

Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller were neither friends nor colleagues yet they shared a similar passion for women’s rights, believing it was best for society.

Continuing with the theme of yesterday’s post, Pulitzer prize-winning author John Matteson drew connections between these two women while highlighting their different approaches.

What was Margaret Fuller’s vision for women?

Margaret Fuller, much like Bronson, believed in attaining spiritual perfection. She was the most passionate of the transcendentalists, that passion often spilling over to the individuals themselves.

Much more than a flirt …

Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It is titillating to read about her intense relationships with Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne (not a transcendentalist, but he did base the heroine of The Scarlett Letter on Margaret – see Wikipedia on Margaret Fuller) but it is also distracting. Margaret may have been a flirt but she was brilliant.

Living her words

A woman’s voice was needed in the Transcendentalist movement and she brought it. While Bronson and Emerson talked a great game regarding the value and worth of women, Margaret lived it, educating women through her writing and her brand of “conversations.”

The vision laid out

Women in the Nineteen Century is Margaret’s tour de force, where she lays out her vision for women.

Matteson laid out Margaret’s demand for full rights for women, well beyond the political and economic; this would include equality spiritually and intellectually.

Bringing virtue to the marketplace

A reformer at heart, she believed that women needed to be in marketplace in order to bring about reform. Taking the traditional role of the wife leading the husband to greater virtue, she extends it out to the greater society: women in business would lead the marketplace (and the men in it) to greater virtue.

Man versus Men, Woman versus Women

Margaret was a philosopher greatly influenced by Transcendentalism. She, like Bronson Alcott, believed in attaining spiritual perfection. Part of that perfection involved gender. Daily reality had placed men and women in narrow roles and neither gender was free because of what she called, “debased living.”

Note that the original title of Women in the Nineteenth Century had been “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women”; it was originally a series of essays serialized in The Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine that Margaret edited for Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Effects on marriage

The distortion of the genders in turn, warped the institution of marriage Margaret believed that the dependency of women on men had debased marriage and sex. She remained single for several years until she had a child with Italian revolutionary Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a marquis who had been disinherited by his family. While it is assumed they were married but there is no hard evidence that they did (source: Wikipedia).

Lead by deeds

Placing reform above all else, Margaret felt that women did not necessarily need to rule but to lead by example. In order to do that, it was imperative not to impede the soul. Each man and woman had to be free to realize their full potential, be who they were meant to be.

Benefits to society

This freedom, however, was not meant just to satisfy individual wants. Here Margaret led by example. She denounced not only the treatment of women but African and Native Americans as well. She advocated for reform in prisons, visiting women in Sing Sing in October of 1844 and even staying overnight (source: Wikipedia). She raised concerns for the homeless, especially in New York (Ibid).

On the same page

If you are familiar with Louisa’s beliefs on women and reform, you can see in similarities already between the two women from Matteson’s description of Margaret’s vision.

Louisa’s vision for women and society

Spiritual father …

Louisa came from one of the founders of Transcendentalism, Bronson Alcott. He was all about spirituality, perfection and becoming divine.

… and reformer mother

But she also came from her mother Abba, a pragmatic reformer. Unlike her philosophical husband whose head was in the clouds, Abba practiced her Christianity day to day, often giving to others out of her family’s own want (Bronson practiced this also, believing that God would always provide).

Bronson exuded serenity as he sought to perfect himself. Abba passionately wrestled with life and others to bring forth reform. Her most noteworthy efforts were in Boston in the 1840s as one of the first social workers.

Societal change needed

Coming from such a background, it is no wonder that Louisa felt that society must be reordered. It began with freeing the slaves.

Belief coming from experience

Matteson noted an incident when Louisa was 3 which most likely opened her eyes to African Americans as equals. While living in Boston, she fell into the Frog Pond; she was rescued by a black boy. She notes in her writings that this boy lit the flame of abolition in her heart.

Living out that belief

Throughout her life, Louisa helped her parents shield and transport runaway slaves to Canada; their home in Concord, known then as Hillside, was on the underground railroad.

Illustration by Flora Smith for The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard.

With pride, Louisa notes that she served tea to John Brown’s widow at Orchard House.

An rare open statement

Louisa didn’t usually state her feminist views blatantly in her fiction writing. One exception was Hospital Sketches where she writes, “I’m a woman’s rights woman, and if any man had offered help in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself.” (from Chapter 1, Hospital Sketches)

Another was a short story, “Happy Women.” This excerpt explains in a nutshell Louisa’s vision for womanly happiness:

This class is composed of superior women who, from various causes, remain single, and devote themselves to some earnest work; espousing philanthropy, art, literature, music, medicine, or whatever task taste, necessity, or chance suggests, and remaining as faithful to and as happy in their choice as married women with husbands and homes.

Subterfuge in her writing

Most of the time she teased out her views in her writing. She would describe the lives of purposeful women who earned their keep and remained independent. Matteson described the importance of work to Louisa saying that life was full of work that needs to be done, and it needs to be done by both sexes.

Becoming the best she can be

Louisa believed as did Margaret that women needed to develop themselves for if a woman developed her talent fully and used it for others, she would be happy. And just as Margaret led by example, so did Louisa, becoming a best-selling author.

Using her bully pulpit

In that position, Louisa could wield a lot of influence and she took every advantage to use it. While Jo March is often cited as the best example of an independent woman, Matteson used the example of Polly from An Old-Fashioned Girl who takes her well-off, bored and disgruntled friend Fanny to visit her sisterhood of working, purpose-filled women. Fanny’s life is changed forever after seeing that life could be so much more than the emptiness of parties and fashion.

Giving your best

Louisa was also greatly valued sacrifice. Like Margaret, a woman’s right to reach her potential was not just for herself; she was to give her best to those around her. This belief plays out again and again in her books.

Duty’s faithful child

Bronson distrusted Louisa’s selfless intentions until she became a nurse. When he saw how she was willing to give up her own life for others by nursing, he wrote his famous sonnet to her, “Duty’s Faithful Child.”

Using her right to vote

Matteson ended his lively presentation with an ironic anecdote. Noting that Louisa was the first woman to register and then to vote in Concord, he quipped that the registrar gave her a literacy test! She also was required to sign her name to prove she could write.

It was the one time in her life that she was in a hurry to pay her taxes so she could qualify.:-)

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